India is urbanising rapidly. While Census 2011 had indicated the urban population to be around 377 million, the United Nations Department of Economic & Social Affairs (UNDESA), World Urbanisation Prospects – 2018 Revision has estimated this to have grown to 461 million by 2018 and expected to touch 877 million mark by 2050. In comparison, China’s urban population in 2018 was estimated to be 837 million in 2018 and is expected to reach 1,092 million by 2050. In fact, for the period 2018-2050, the addition to urban population in India would be 416 million, which would be the highest for any country including China. Rapid pace of urbanisation would continue to pose many challenges for the urban planners and managers and call for quick and sustainable solutions.
Challenge No. 1: The growth of small and medium towns
The challenge: Urban migration is happening faster in the small and medium towns (SMTs) than in the mega and other Class-I cities. During the decade 2001-2011, the number of mega cities, that is, cities with over 1 core population, remained constant at three. However, the number of other Class-I cities, with population between 1 lakh and 1 crore, grew from 391 to 465, that is by 18.9 per cent, whereas the number of the small and medium towns, with population less than one lakh, grew from 4,720 to 7,428, which works out to 57.4 per cent. Smaller towns grew at relatively faster pace, in number. Details are in Table-1.
Until the year 2014, there used to be programmes like IDSSMT and UIDSSMT for extending financial support for the SMTs. However, now only the Class-I cities have got the support under major programmes such as the Smart Cities Mission and the AMRUT, and there are no significant programmes from the MoHUA to support the SMTs. This is leading to highly chaotic growth of the SMTs.
The solution: A new Urban Mission should be launched to provide a
sound support to the SMTs for
Challenge No. 2: The unmitigated existence of slums
The challenge: Nearly 17.4% of urban Indian households lived in a slum in 2011. The population of slum dwellers increased from 52.37 million in 2001 to 65.49 million in 2011 and the number of towns which reported slum dwellers increased from 1,743 to 2,613 during the same period. Out of 4.041 statutory towns and cities in the country, as many as 2,613 had existence of slum, as in 2011. As per Census 2001 & 2011, the decadal growth of slum population during 2001-2011 was 25.1 per cent.
Even though any subsequent authentic data on would become available only after completion of the Census 2021, all indications are that Decadal Growth Rate (%) there has been no worthwhile reduction in the slums or the slum population. This is happening despite the government sanctioning over 70 lakh houses for the weaker sections of the urban population under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) during the last five years alone. Apparently, the majority of slum dwellers who partake the allotment of subsidised houses, continue to live in the slums. Another possibility is that once a slum dweller family moves out, a new family moves in.
The solution: A quick survey of the allottees of the PMAY (Urban) should be undertaken and the allottees guided and facilitated to shift into the allotted houses. Simultaneously, the slum units so vacated should be demolished and the slum area redeveloped as per the approved Master Plan of the city.
Challenge No. 3: Safe drinking water
The challenge: The Central and State governments put together have been spending thousands of crores of rupees for water supply projects annually under JnNURM, AMRUT, Smart Cities Mission and many other programmes. Still, most cities continue to remain vulnerable to scarcity of drinking water, particularly in summers. We have seen the example of Chennai in the summer of 2019, but numerous other cities, at least in some parts, face similar situation. The solution: Recycling and reuse of wastewater hold the key to resolution of the water woes of the cities. Use of fresh water should be restricted to direct consumption for drinking, cooking, bathing and washing. Construction sector, industries and horticulture should be mandated to use recycled wastewater only. Even households should be guided and assisted to use recycled wastewater for flushing of toilets. Alongside, supply of fresh water should be subject to metering, coupled with a progressive tariff structure, at the household levels, to encourage economy in water usage.
Challenge No. 4: Happiness
The challenge: The concept of measuring the level of happiness of the citizens of a country was introduced by Bhutan and caught the attention of many countries and even the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Based on a 2011 initiative of the UNGA, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network has undertaken to assess the relative rankings of national happiness of the citizens of the various countries based on sample survey of the residents’ ratings of their own lives. The Happiness Index of each of the 156 countries is computed based on six key variables that have been found to support well-being: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. It is interesting to note that in countries like Finland, and even Pakistan, the happiness index has shown improvement, whereas it has shown a steady decline in case of India. Of course, even Bhutan, the originator of the concept, itself has shown a decline, and so has China, but the level of India was very low in 2013-2015, being 118 and has now reached a level of 140 out of 156 countries, nearly at the bottom of the ranking ladder.
The solution: There is no doubt that the Government plays an important role in enhancing the feeling of happiness among the people. The income disparity in India being high, the rise in national GDP or even in the per capita GDP may not help in making people at large happy about their finances. Policies need to focus on reduction of income inequities. The other factors impacting the feeling of happiness, namely, life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity, need government intervention as well as social awareness and involvement of all the citizens.